An empty space for play

First, a delightful thing to begin the day with: Twenty Thousand Hertz did an episode on Simlish. I do not play The Sims, but you don’t have to be even remotely interested in the game itself to enjoy hearing the history of this fake language or the ways it’s expanded as the game’s popularity exploded. (Easily worth a listen for the covers of songs alone.)

It’s a funny thing about simulation games. I can easily lose myself for hours in something like a Civilization or one of the many little “build and manage a small kingdom/village/etc” games that are available on Steam…but not The Sims. Perhaps it’s related to how I never really played with dolls as a child (I much preferred going on epic quests with a stuffed animal or two.) I bought Euro Truck Simulator on sale once, but haven’t ever really sat down to try it out; it has not grabbed me the way something like Monster Hunter or Chicory or Ace Attorney does.

So…why am I perfectly comfortable spending hours laying out a little village in Banished, or trying to see what happens if I go for the technological victory with the Egyptians, or something, but just…bounce right off The Sims or [Insert thing here] Simulator [year]?

I mean, I suppose it isn’t all that surprising that I am more attracted to games that have a stronger plot or characters. I am a story junkie. But…I think more to the point, there’s something about the kind of game that just plunks you into a space and says “Welp. Have fun!” and then leaves you to it that tends to leave me cold. As though the people who made it aren’t really interested in engaging with me. (Which is foolishness, I recognize; that very openness is the entire point if you are the sort of person who loves this kind of sandboxy game most of all.)

You can of course add things TO such a game that means I can get stuck in comfortably. I’ve had a great time in Minecraft after adding a few mods that layer in a little bit more of a sense of progression, perhaps even a little framework on which I can build a plot in my head – and adding other people to a game like this turns it into a hangout, not an empty house I am wandering around in, which also helps immensely. It’s amazing how much more comfortable just puttering around doing not-much-of-consequence becomes if other people are around – and hey, perhaps at the end of it you’ve made something cool together.

It seems faintly ridiculous to me that the reason I might have trouble with sandboxy games is that they don’t seem to want to connect with me. In other games I like, I know the creators are entirely unaware of my existence…but it still feels, somehow, as if they did what they did in order to share it with me and others like me; there is a connection in watching someone’s movie or reading someone’s book or playing someone’s game or going to someone’s show.

Someone is expressing themselves, and I am there to experience that expression, and that is often very satisfying. If the thing they have made is delightful, so much the better.

In a sandboxy game, I suppose I am free to express myself – but there is unlikely to be anyone to share that expression with. It feels sort of lonely…and there is that strange sense that I have just been parked in front of the TV in lieu of some richer interaction.

I am probably overthinking this (I am awfully good at overthinking), but it’s an interesting little meditation.